Hiddleswift was never real. I had a boyfriend in sixth grade with whom I communicated exclusively via AIM, and that relationship was more legitimate than Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston’s. But we’re not here to discuss the “if”—we’re concerned with the "why?" and the "huh?" and the "what?" of it all. Hiddleswift was faker than a deviated septum in a celebrity nasal passage, but an interesting question remains: Now that they’re reportedly broken up, what was even the point?
Objectively speaking, Tom Hiddleston is less famous than Taylor Swift. People probably say "that guy from The Avengers" more often than his actual name, and fame is obviously an enviable thing. This was a profile boost for him, regardless of whether it was deliberately manufactured to prepare him to be considered for the role of James Bond. It was basically like the boring Nantucket version of the Kardashian-Jenners dating anyone besides Kanye.
Less clear is how Swift benefitted from any of this. Pretty much the only pop star at a higher stratosphere of fame than her right now is Beyoncé. Swift doesn’t need to gain notoriety any more than a fish needs a bicycle. If anything, the whole thing was damaging, and that’s before it crashed and burned. She was forever marked by this the second her film crew okayed Hiddleston to go swimming in an “I ❤️ T.S.” tank top.
The trajectory of Swift’s image is in constant communication with public reaction. It’s reworked dynamically as it progresses, like when The Good Wife writers took out that god awful plotline about Kalinda’s husband midseason because everyone hated it. Hiddleston is clearly the Kalinda’s husband of Swift’s reputation.
For her first few years of mega stardom, her brand was a cottage industry of dating and breaking up. In the early days, the drama of romance was her domain, maybe even more clearly than music. I mean, I’m pretty sure, at one point in 2012, my dad, who is a Republican and regularly reads the New York Post, said something like, “Who is Taylor Swift dating now?”
Around 2014, there was a shift. She traded in her boyfriends for the currency of girl power. She began collecting friends and curating evidence of the lady-bonding to the point that her Instagram became a living museum of normatively hot performers. Eventually, that too came crashing down from a point of critical mass. She was criticized for hanging out with 90 percent thin blonde women, and then used her 1989 tour as if in response, carting out such an absurd potpourri of people that I was legitimately disappointed when there was no appearance by Gary Busey. (Seriously, Matt LeBlanc is probably still confused as to why he was even there.)
There’s been this very clear responsiveness to public reaction from Swift, shifting to fit what the people want, but it’s broken now. We saw the machinations too clearly with Kim Kardashian’s Snapchat of Kanye’s call about “Famous.” The issue with knowing that he called her to approve the lyric wasn’t just that she lied by omission and the grandiose subtweeting that was her Grammy speech—it was seeing the machinations, the gears turning between who Swift really is and what she projects to the world. Pretty much all celebrity is that on some level, but this was the curtain dropping on the Wizard of Oz, only instead of magical powers the wizard was pretending to be a victim.
Hiddleston predated that incident, though their “relationship” is part of the same problem: Swift’s positive publicity machine is glitching out. She hit this stride amid her early series of phases, where she was popping up at weddings, and donating to charities, and wrapping fan Christmas gifts, somehow under the guise that it was all a perfectly natural extension of her being a delightful angel IRL. The problem is that somewhere between barreling through boyfriends and best friends like the Tazmanian Devil on speed, the illusion got sloppy. Post-Kimye, the Swift scammer narrative is so cemented in our collective minds, the snake emoji has become a symbol for it (and her). Hiddleswift disintegrated because it wasn’t enough of a distraction to win back public good will, or even general interest. It was another item of personal interaction that Swift had cooked up, and it’s time to re-strategize.
It would be really great if Swift could go back to writing music. You know, stop worrying about performing with a fleet of Victoria’s Secret models beside her, and actually create some art. That might take a minute, though. Right now, Swift is probably in a bunker with her team. There’s scribbling on the walls, strings connecting printouts of Buzzfeed articles. A panel of hired specialists running through diversion suggestions as Swift taps at a chalk board with an oversized wooden pointer. Frustrated by the lack of viable ideas, she snaps it in half and storms out of the room.
“Where are you going?” squeaks her first-in-command.
“To give some random girl money to go to Chipotle,” Swift snaps back. Striding away, she barely turns her head.
“You did that already!” the publicist yells out. “August of 2014!!!”
But it’s too late. Swift has already slammed the door.